Was/Is Religion Useful Even if it isn't True?
But the perceived benefits, could they not be achieved by being a member of certain non-religious Groups, Humanists perhaps ?? - yes, this had occurred to me, too.
Also, when did religious belief and behaviour first occur? Did it occur first in Homo sapiens, or did it occur even earlier in other species of Homo?
There must have been a time when our ancestors were competent enough at hunting and gathering that they could regularly devote a certain amount of time and effort to the 'supernatural'.
Very fascinating ...
Cofty I really enjoyed your summary. Haidt's methods of studying the differing moralities of groups by going to India, and also studying the WEIRD culture we all live in by studying graduate students at a Northeastern University.
He is applying his field of social psychology to religious development in our species. One of the most interesting statements that he made was that religion and spiritual experiences in particular "bind and blind us". He gives many examples not just religious ones as Cofty mentioned. Where we circle something sacred as a group. We are bound together in this exercise, blinded to its faults in the process. Then feel a sense of something greater than ourselves. Sporting events, 80's raves, military units, religious revivals, and so on.
links to Haidt anyone?
I think in the past religion was not anything separate from other aspects of life. so if people were doing other things like politics, social life like dancing and singing in groups, chanting or what ever else - it was just part of life.
so nowadays I don't think to myself I need religion - cos my rituals are to do with catching up with the news in the morning, visiting the pub sometimes, going to the gym etc etc - to me these are all the kinds of things people would have done as rituals in the past. things you do without thinking much about it. we do have a collective - it is the state that we live under sort of semi united in that we obey its rules etc etc
Religion is a social technology it served a greater purpose in our distant past. The technology still works today... not sure we need it now though.
I would love to hear more about this, I have always been of the mind that communities thrived more because of cooperation, and oxytocin was out community hormone (hive), but religion was a non-oxytocin systematic way of tapping into the strength of the group.
Azor - thanks for recommending Haidt's book to me a while ago. I really enjoyed it. He has some criticism for the "New Atheists". It's always good to be challenged.
His explanation of political divisions is very timely.
I will add some more details later this evening. Just briefly to address LUHE's question. Haidt is talking about a relatively recent development. Generic beliefs and superstitions are very ancient and resulted from hypersensitive agency detectors. Nothing new in that proposition. But he goes further and proposes religion as a second phase. One that made it possible for larger groups to bond who were not genetically related. The evolution of the "Hive Switch" was a leap forward and it was the rituals of religion that initially triggered it.
As Azor mentioned Haidt draws a sharp distinction between the emphasis on individual rights in "WEIRD" cultures like ours (Western; Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic) and the culture of communal ethics that exists elsewhere. There are some really interesting experimental results on the differences in culturally shaped ethics but they are all underpinned by the same set of universal intuitions. Sacredness is one of them.
His suggestion is that we are losing something that is an ingrained intuition of our human nature, shaped by evolution. Further he explains the success of the right in politics and the problems of the liberal parties in terms of the right's ability to speak to a wider range of human moral intuitions beyond the care instinct.
One of the most interesting statements that he made was that religion and spiritual experiences in particular "bind and blind us". He gives many examples not just religious ones as Cofty mentioned. Where we circle something sacred as a group. We are bound together in this exercise, blinded to its faults in the process. Then feel a sense of something greater than ourselves. Sporting events, 80's raves, military units, religious revivals, and so on. -azor
Peak experiences are often associated with self-actualisation which according to Maslow is at the top of the hierarchy of needs.
The thing I find frustrating is that peak or 'spiritual' experiences sometimes confirm a person's religious views or sometimes lead people into finding a church. Those endless platform stories at the KH and conventions about someone who had something strange happen that you might call a peak experience and then a JW calls so they saw it as a sign and converted to the cult.
Something natural that is happening in the human brain, which can even as azor says be at a pop concert or sports match, because it is so little understood convinces some people it's Holy Spirit or something, feeling at one with God.
I've often thought this unexplained feeling traps people in religion, 'binds and blinds us' - exactly.
I think sometimes particularly moving music or a particularly moving film can provide an epiphany type experience that seriously religious ritual could produce. I'm delving into Irish engagements with films, poetry and song - I still even now find some of U2,s music like this - epiphany like.
U2 have done a lot of work in world poverty as well.
and then there is Seamus Heaney's poetry. This poet keeps close to his roots and he take a counter cultural stance to imperialism and what happened in Ireland. But he is very aware of how remaining in the victim mode can become another form of oppression. For this he is criticised by many in Ireland as they simply cannot see it. Heaney has done some interviews where he mentions this.
peak spiritual experiences celebrate the human ability to overcome how badly fitted we are to the world. when we look at other mammals - they fit more beautifully than we do. so what is going on here?
on the other hand morality is more complicated and I am waiting patiently to see what Haidt has to say about this